Saturday, August 29, 2009

The dark clouds over Dracut

Warren Shaw's bi-weekly column in The Valley Dispatch yesterday touched upon the "ominous clouds" in Dracut's politics and government. Shaw feels that the Louisburg Square project is "over" unless the town leaders get Gerry Lussier to extend the December 31 sale date.

See it all here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Missing votes

Today's Lowell Sun listed the number of roll call votes local representatives have missed this year. Of 210 total roll call votes this year, Rep. Colleen Garry has missed 40 (80.9%). Of all the representatives in the state, Garry has the fifth worst voting record.

Of course this should be put into some context. I know Garry hurt her back in May so perhaps she missed a glut of votes around that time. Also, much of the House's roll call votes are procedural or pertain to local matters (i.e. home rule petitions).

But, all of Lowell's representatives have missed 4 votes combined with Rep. Kevin Murphy missing 3 (Murphy is also the attorney for the Dracut School Committee).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Moving on

Not sure when it's going to happen but the Dracut reporter for the Lowell Sun, Bridget Scrimenti is leaving the paper to pursue another career. I can't say I blame her all that much. I subscribe to the paper so I am a loyal reader but the newspaper business is going the way of the record player.

I am hearing that a guy named Jack Minch who writes for the Sentinel and Enterprise (owned by the same company as the Sun) may be the new Dracut reporter.

Bridget was doing good work and was very present at meetings. I wish her the best.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Still kicking

My apologizes for not posting much this week and for going all Spencer Mullin on some folks and not calling some people back in a timely manner...I went back to work this week so my mind has been 100% focused on that. Plus, I stayed late two nights, one being last night as we had a BBQ for the freshmen and their parents. I got home around 7pm and fell asleep on the couch by 10:00 or so! School can be draining and when I get home at night, the focus is the boy, my wife, and getting ready for the next day. Zzzzzzzzzz.

Anyway, Shawn's got some great stuff over at Dracut Forum including some pictures from the ceremony honoring Officer Clegg, some School Committee members being miffed at Dr. Mullin for not calling THEM back, and some thoughts on Louisburg Square. Check it out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cooler heads?

Tonight's Dracut Housing Authority meeting was a big quieter but the town is nowhere closer to resolving the issue of 1476 Mammoth Road.

Ken Cunha motioned that the DHA not spend any more money on the project until the following items are resolved:

1. What to do with a wall that is behind the property and owned by the abutter. It seems that nearby trees are too heavy for the wall and may cost $100,000 to resolve.
2. Need to settle the terms of the lease
3. Need a new appraisal without the cost of improvements included.
4. Determine if the town will be helping out the DHA financially over the next 20 years (i.e. help with repairs, capital improvements, etc).

Commissioner George Nagle asked if this meant Consultant Marc Slotnick should no longer be paid, Cunha said yes because he has not seemed to get them any answers to their questions! But, Chairman Ken Martin stepped in and said Slotnick has a contract and he should be brought it on the discussions as this project gets resolved. Nonetheless, the motion was agreed to with Nagle voting no (Tom Salem was absent).

Martin also mentioned that the Finance Committee will be meeting next Monday at 6pm to reconsider their support for the project. I spoke with Finance Committee Chairman Gary Marsella and he said they're concerned about the long-term finances of this project. He also said that Town Manager Dennis Piendak told them at Town Meeting that the town would pay $326,000 a year towards the project, something that was not in the original proposal. They thought that the financing ($70,000 for 20 years) was coming from CPC funds. Also, since the rents will essentially be cut in half once these units become public housing, they wonder if there be enough money to sustain the finances of the building.

Marsellla said the Finance Committee cannot legally stop the project but can take the matter to Town Meeting if need be.

Cunha also asked if December 31, 2009 is the absolute deadline for getting this project finalized. Martin said that even if everything was approved tonight, they would still not meet that deadline. The seller (Gerry Lussier) has told selectmen that he will not extend the purchase and sale date of December 31 but DHCD, according to Martin, won't be concerned if there is a delay past that date. Slotnick agreed.

Finally, Martin called for sub-committee to be formed to work with the Board of Selectmen to settle this matter and to answer all of the questions once and for all. Nagle and Cunha agreed to serve on the committee which will work with the selectmen and any other stakeholders to resolve this. This, it seems, was a response to the letter sent by Selectmen Bob Cox and Joe DiRocco essentially asking the same thing.

It will be interesting to see Cunha work with those guys given the rhetoric from the last meeting!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What to do?

On our way back from a birthday party in Milton, we were listening to 88.9 FM (Emerson College) Playground show (music for kids and the kids at heart!). Since they kept on saying "playground" my son said he wanted to go to a playground! So, as we drove by Veterans Park we decided to stop in.

This was around 6:15pm and I noticed that all of the trash barrels were overflowing and the playground had some litter on it. About 2 Saturday nights ago my son and I went to the park and the place was trashed then too. Tonight I bought a water at the concession stand and commented on the condition of the place to the guy working the stand. He said that when he left last night at 5:30pm the place was fine. But, when he came back this morning, he had to spend 1 1/2 hours cleaning up with some other guys. In addition, someone had defecated all over the men's room and stolen the tablets from the air fresheners.

I was at the park last week and a kid dropped her cup from the top of the playground area. Her grandmother didn't even bother to pick it up and left it for others to clean up after her. I almost said something to her but I didn't want to get into an argument.

There is a sign at the park that calls the place a "Cornerstone of Dracut Pride." But on nights, hot days, and weekends, this place is becoming a cornerstone of litter and trash. Not only that, people have been vandalizing the benches and playground equipment. If we're not careful, the place we all love will soon become a dump.

So the hard work of so many is not impacted, I suggest the following:

1. Remove all trash barrels and making the park a "Carry in, Carry out" park
2. Increase police patrols after nightfall
3. Perhaps even put up a gate so cars cannot get in after a certain time
4. Put up signs reminding parents that their children should not leave water bottles and other trash in the playground area

The man in the concession stand tonight was very disgusted with the way people are treating the park. A lot of people put time, sweat, and muscle into that park and today, many are giving of their time to keep it clean. Let's not ruin this gem.

Part Deux

Just saw on the town's website that the Dracut Housing Authority meets tomorrow at 7pm. With the December 31 deadline looming and news that consultant Marc Slotnick has not had his concerns addressed, this should be interesting.

Civic pride

I've always tried to be a good local citizen and get involved in local causes and attend local events. I admit that in the four years I have lived in Dracut, I have not been as good at that but I have resolved to attend more things and volunteer more. Thus, last night my wife and son and I attend the Festival over at the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church last night with some friends. We actually went last year as well, it is a very nice time. It's really just food and music with most of the time spent spending time with friends and family. I saw Selectman John Zimini and State Sen. Steve Panagiotakos there and former Selectman Mike Blatus was working the event. We had a great time even though my son refused to go on the bouncy house!

Next Saturday I really want to go to the Steer Roast sponsored by the Centralville's Sportsmen Club. I've been wanting to go to this for many years but never have - this year I will. My wife isn't interested so I need to find some friends who will go with me. I think the promise of lots of meat will entice some! After that we have Old Home Day and the BBQ Chicken event at the American Legion. Then, my church, Saint Francis, has a Harvest Festival.

Lots going on, come out and support local groups and causes.

The Column on Zimini

Not surprisingly, last week's Board of Selectmen meeting made this week's Column with Selectman John Zimini taking the brunt of it. See it all below:

PERHAPS DRACUT Selectman John Zimini should wear a shirt that reads, "Does Not Play Well With Others."

The two-term official has seemingly done everything he can to alienate himself from his four colleagues on the board. At a July 20 meeting of the Dracut Housing Authority Commission, Zimini suggested that Selectmen Bob Cox and Joe DiRocco were pushing for a senior housing project only to help line the pockets of the building's owner, Jerry Lussier.

"Who really is carrying the connected developer's bathwater and why?" Zimini said at the time.
The statement so infuriated Selectman Jim O'Loughlin that he made a motion at Tuesday night's selectmen's meeting to have Zimini interviewed by Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone.


The motion passed on a 3-2 vote with Zimini and board Chairman George Malliaros voting against. It was a surprising decision on Malliaros' part, seeing that Zimini has been a thorn in the chairman's side for several months, constantly chiding him about the way meetings are conducted and going so far as to say that if there is a bad attitude among board members, it is because "the fish rots from the head down."

Nothing better demonstrated the divide between Zimini and his colleagues than the fact that none of the five separate motions Zimini put forth on Tuesday night managed to gain a second.
But the likelihood of Leone's office actually coming to Dracut to interview Zimini is slim, given some of the pressing life-and-death matters with which Leone has to contend. Zimini probably knows that, which may account for his bravado. After Tuesday's selectmen meeting, Zimini said he'd be more than willing to speak to Leone.


"I have nothing to hide," Zimini said. "I'll speak to anyone about anything."

Friday, August 14, 2009

On the air

I will be joining Warren and Shawn tomorrow from 6:30am-7:30am on WCAP to discuss Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting. Be sure to tune in.

Good government

In his column for the Valley Dispatch (which seems to be bi-weekly now), Warren Shaw highlights the DATV show by Dracut Water Superintendent Gary McCarthy. I've been meaning to talk about this show myself but I never seem to catch the whole thing. If you haven't seen it, McCarthy spends time to show the work and operation of the water district. It is surprisingly well done as public access shows are usually choppy. McCarthy is very good in front of the camera and he comes across very professionally. He makes a very mundane topic quite interesting!

I've always been impressed with McCarthy, especially in his role as Town Moderator. He is very professional, intelligent, and fair. When Shawn and I spoke to him this past campaign season during an on-line chat, he came across well prepared and informed. He is an example of government working well.

See Warren's column here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Gloves are off

If you confused the lightning outside tonight with the lightning over at Harmony Hall, you were not alone! Tonight's Board of Selectmen meeting was pretty tense with Louisburg Square and lights at Veterans Park taking center stage.

The meeting started off pretty slowly with license requests, a presentation by NMCOG, and a few public meetings about businesses. I started to think I didn't need to be there but I knew to wait for sub-committee reports and new business...and they were off.

Selectman Bob Cox read a letter he and Selectman Joe DiRocco sent to the Dracut Housing Authority asking if they could resolve the Louisburg Square matter. It was essentially, as Selectman George Malliaros later called it, an "olive branch" but they have not received a reply. The DHA hired a consultant, Marc Slotnik, and he recently told them that they needed to settle everything right away...and Cox said they have not called Slotnick either. This project has a December 31 end date and it looks like, as Cox said, that this thing may go down.

Selectman James O'Loughlin brought up the last DHA meeting in which the selectmen and DHA members argued over Louisburg Square and he said he was embarrassed by the meeting. He took exception to my coverage of the meeting on this blog and although he didn't mention me by name, he said that it was not as rough as I made it out to be. I was talking to him afterwards and he said many people watched the meeting on DATV after reading my account and felt that it was not as heated as I described. He was upset that I said he and DHA Chairman Ken Martin were screaming at each other (or yelling, I forget the word). But if I recall correctly, the front page of the Sun the next day featured pictures of both O'Loughlin and Martin so their dispute made some impression on the Sun too. Also, their headline was "Sparks fly between Dracut Housing Authority, selectmen over elderly housing" and the lead was "In a confrontational and heated exchange, members of the Dracut Housing Authority and selectmen fought..."

During this discussion, O'Loughlin took a shot at me and said that writing about the meeting in the manner that I did was contributing to the souring of the town politics. He looked at the Sun reporter and said they have "journalistic integrity." Fair enough...but don't forget that O'Loughlin does write for the paper!

Anyway, I saw him afterwards and we talked and shook hands. We started chatting about something else and that was that. I have made my fair share of criticisms of O'Loughlin and I can take my lumps, I have thick skin (literally and figuratively). That's politics.

The board also passed a motion, made by DiRocco, that would not allow lights to be placed at the football fields at Veterans Park ever. This passed 4-1 despite the presence of a number of Pop Warner players in their uniforms! I was talking to DiRocco afterwards and he said a promise is a promise and the project would never have passed if Warren Shaw didn't make a promise to the neighbors way back when.

The other big issue was O'Loughlin making a motion to have District Attorney Gerry Leone investigate the charge by Selectman John Zimini that some members of the board are "carrying water for a local developer." That would be Gerry Lussier of DRACO Homes, the owner of 1476 Mammoth Road. This passed 3-2 with Zimini and Malliaros voting no. This seems kind of silly in my mind and I am sure Leone will ignore this as much as he can.

It is very obvious that Zimini is alone on the board and the others do not like him (and vice versa). He kept on making remarks to Malliaros about the way in which he conducted meetings and Malliaros returned fire. Zimini would not mention O'Loughlin by name, just "the previous speaker." I was talking to Zimini afterwards and he didn't seem to mind the tension, he was joking around, was jovial, etc. But, as Shawn said tonight over at Dracut Forum, this is not the same Zimini, something has happened between him and the other 4 and I don't know what it is.

So, it was an interesting meeting to say the least. I had a feeling that tensions from the DHA meeting would boil over but I never knew the DA would get involved! Shawn has a good rundown too, check it out.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

We're not alone

The Boston Globe has an article today on the poor condition of many town/city halls across the state. Dracut's court order and failed override got a quick mention but the Town Hall Annex was the article's picture. Below the picture was the article's headline "The eyesore in town center" right on the front page (below the fold). They obviously wanted to find a real eyesore to put on the front page and considering all the buildings they mentioned in the article, the fact that they showed ours might say that we have the worst! At least it's only the annex but outsiders won't know the difference.

My solution is to sell the school administration building and move those offices to a renovated police station and to sell the town hall and annex and moves those offices to a renovated Parker Ave. School (or the other way around).

See the article here.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

No surprise

The Sun reported yesterday that Matt Grimard will not be attending my alma mater, Saint Anselm College, next year after all. It is a sad end to a future that was very promising. I wasn't aware that Notre Dame had sent a recruiter last Thanksgiving - very impressive.

This is a major lesson for kids out there (and adults I guess). Actions have consequences.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New Brookside leader

The Sun has a nice profile of the new principal of Brookside Elementary School today. One thing that struck me was that the school has 620 kids, that's pretty big!

See the story here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fair process?

At one of the last Board of Selectmen meetings, the board reappointed three individuals to various boards after they sent in letters requesting their reappointments. It got me thinking about the ways in which people are selected to serve on various town boards. If the terms of these three men were up, shouldn't there have been a notice that a vacancy had occurred and anyone interested should apply?

So, I e-mailed the town's Human Resources office and Mary Hamilton graciously informed me of the process by which a person is appointed to a board in town:

When the current member of a non-elected board’s term expires, he/she may ask for re-appointment. If he/she does not ask for re-appointment, the open seat is posted in all town buildings (excluding the schools and school administration building). It is also posted on the town website (www.dracut-ma.us) under Human Resources - Job Opportunities - Voluntary Positions. If a person is interested in the seat, he/she must send a letter of interest to the appointing authority; Town Manager or Board of Selectmen.

I then asked if this was the process as laid out in the Town Charter or the town by-laws and she stated:

The Town Clerk has checked the Town By-Laws and Charter. Although we adhere to the Mass. General Laws, there is no specific language for the re-appointment process.

So, the way I read this, when a person is appointed to a town board, that person can essentially serve for as long as he wants unless the appointing authority does not reappoint that person. The only other way someone can serve on a board is if the person chooses not to serve after his term expires.

Now, I don't think there are people out there clamoring to serve on the Board of Appeals or other boards. Furthermore, I don't think people stay on boards to wield power and become rich and powerful. But, it seems to me that when a person's term expires, there should be a process by which interested parties could apply. It only seems fair.

Get to work

Yesterday on the old blog I urged town leaders to put aside their politics and get 1476 Mammoth Road done. Today, the Lowell Sun said the same thing in their editorial. They admit that the appraisal and the sale price is a sticky situation but yesterday's paper quoted a Department of Revenue representative who said the town could deal with this as they see fit. So, just so it.

I think this could be a huge campaign issue in 2010 with two selectmen running for re-election. Someone could argue that there is too much inter-politics in this town and because of it, two projects, Canney Farm and 1476 Mammoth Road, were almost killed.

The Sun's editorial is here but I wanted to point out this line:

Bitter arguments between the Dracut Housing Authority and the Board of Selectmen aren't going to resolve the issue. The town -- and its senior population -- would be far better served if officials work cooperatively and collaboratively to make more affordable units available instead of wasting time on unproductive bickering.

Amen.

Back in business

I drove by the Skateboard Park last night and saw some kids in there for the first time in a very long time. I was glad to see that as I have been very disappointed in the fact that it closed so quickly after it opened. Many people worked very hard to make that park a reality and a small minority of people ruined it right away.

Today, ironically, the Sun has an article on the park's resurgence. I am not a huge fan of the fact that kids needs to register to use it but it seems like a necessary compromise. See the article here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Next step?

Bridget Scrimenti does a very nice job of laying out the finances and politics of the 1476 Mammoth Road project in today's Sun. It can be a confusing issue with all the numbers being thrown around but Bridget explains everything very methodically.

Essentially, for those who haven't been keeping up:

1. The building was appraised at $2.4 m in 2005
2. The town agreed to purchase the property for $2.65 m and signed a P and S with a December 31, 2009 sale date
3. Some feel that the town is paying too much for the property and want a second appraisal. Also, since the building is being purchased using Community Preservation Funds, the town cannot pay more than the appraised value of the property (per state law)
4. The state is giving the town a $2.9 m grant for renovations/upgrades
5. Ken Cunha, Ken Martin, et al feel that the property needs more than $3 m in upgrades

Two interesting pieces from the article. Selectmen Bob Cox and Joe DiRocco as well as Town Manager Dennis Piendak said "at the time the deal was negotiated...[they] weren't aware that the CPA law prohibits using CPA money to purchase a project for more than its appraised value." Hmmmmmmmmmm.

The Sun also contacted the Department of Revenue which oversees CPA funds to see if the town can move forward and they said it's up to the town.

All in all, this continues to look bad for Dracut and its leaders. They need to put politics and personal differences aside, sit down and figure this thing out. They're looking foolish.

Nice job Bridget.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Custodian Contract Update

Let me preface this all by saying I have the utmost respect and admiration for custodial staff. I am a teacher and I am good friends with the custodial staff at my school and am grateful for the work they do. I asked for a copy of the recent Dracut school custodian contracts because I want to keep the residents of Dracut informed about how their money is being spent. When the police, fire, etc. contracts come out I will do the same.

Anyway, as Shawn Ashe said, there isn't much to the contract. Some things did catch my eye, however. First was that the custodians get 15 sick days and they can accumulate as many as they want. When they retire, they get any unused sick time back at a rate of $55 per sick day. So, if a person works as a custodian for 30 years and never takes a sick day, they will get a kiss in the mail totaling close to $25,000! This is certainly not exclusive to the custodians as this is a common "benefit" in the public sector. In my opinion it is a complete waste of taxpayer money.

The custodians also get 15 paid holidays including New Year's Eve, the day after Thanksgiving, and the last working day before Christmas.

The custodians also get "longevity pay" if they stay employed with the schools. The scale is:

10 years: $475
15 years: $525
20 years: $575
25 years: $725
30 years: $775

There are 24 custodians in the school district with the senior member, David Adamczyk, serving as head custodian. According to the contract, he receives a stipend of $5,500 per year for this role.

The pay scale for the custodians is broken down into Day Shift and Night Shift (after 2pm) with an 8.5% differential between day and night. There are four steps ranging from $31,158.44-$42,896.72. They receive $30.94 an hour if they work overtime.

So, as I said nothing too exciting here but it is nice to know.